E-learning with web 2.0


- ► category - Search engines clearly predate web 2.0; for a history of the original search companies, see PPC Blog's History of Search infographic. However, search tools have been moving steadily in a more web 2.0 direction as they have become more user-centred, interactive and multimodal. They are arguably also moving in a web 3.0 direction with the arrival of social and personal search. Search is also available on mobile devices, though the move to the use of dedicated apps has arguably rendered search less important on mobile devices than on the web (see Going Mobile below).

- ► what - Search engines help users to find material amongst the vast amount of online content. For tips on how to make better use of major search engines like Google, see Bright Side's 10 Ways to Search Google.

Currently, key trends point towards greater differentiation, customisation and personalisation of search.

As search becomes more personalised, the activity of searching may, ironically, become less common, as more and more relevant information flows automatically to individuals without the need for specific searches to find it.

- ► why - For the foreseeable future we'll still need search engines. It's worth getting acquainted with the wide range of specialist search tools out there on the web. These are useful not only for teachers but also for students, who urgently need to develop appropriate information literacy skills to locate, navigate, evaluate and manage information online.

- ► types - Key features of newer search services include those listed below. It should be noted that Google offers a range of similar features to many of those detailed here. More information can be found under Google Search Features and Google Search Services & Tools. It's also worth trying out Google Advanced Search and, for those doing educational searches, Google Scholar.

Customisation of search content: It is possible to determine the content and format of search results by using specific, dedicated search services like those listed below.

  • Blogs: Dedicated blog search engines include Technorati and IceRocket (though the latter allows for other web searches as well). LisZen searches library blogs.

  • PDF/document/book search: Pdfgeni searches for e-books in pdf format.

  • Metasearch: Metasearch services compile results from different sources; for example, Dogpile and WebCrawler, which compile results from Google, Yahoo, LiveSearch and Ask, allow users to search in categories such as audio, video or news. Spezify is another metasearch engine which presents a visual overview of results from different online services and sources. Trove, created by the National Library of Australia, also sorts results by media type. InstaGrok identifies key material on a given topic in multiple media formats, allows you to pin those materials to a mind map, and helps you record the materials found in a journal format.

  • Other: Omgili is a search engine for discussion boards and forums. Social Mention searches social media. ZabaSearch helps you search for specific individuals on the net. FaceSearch, as the name suggests, searches for face pics. For online dictionaries and thesauruses, see the References page. 2lingual is a bilingual search engine underpinned by Google. Twurdy classifies search results by level of difficulty, suggesting which are appropriate for different reading ages.

For a list of many other specialised search services, see Wikipedia's List of search engines.

Customisation of search presentation: It is increasingly possible to choose among different presentation formats of search results, many of which are very different from traditional, linear lists of search results. There is currently some experimentation with mind map formats, as seen on services like Quintura for Kids or WikiMindMap, which shows Wikipedia results as a mind map. Image search engines with interesting visual presentation formats include the Flickr-based Tag Galaxy (see image above left) and the Flickr Related Tag Browser. Liveplasma maps film and musical preferences, underpinned by Amazon 's recommendations software. Many of the search services mentioned in the previous section also work with unusual visual presentation formats; examples include VizBand and InstaGrok.

We're also just beginning to see a move towards the visual presentation of search itself (as opposed to the results of a search). For a good early example see Healthline's 3-dimensional Human Body Maps. Map-based search tools, such as several that work with Wikipedia, also fall into this category.

Customisation of search context: It is also increasingly the case that the search context is defined in relation to the individual doing the searching, and the other people to whom that individual is connected. This approach often goes under the name of social search. It is typically an automated function of the major search services, notably Google, which tailors search results to individuals on the basis of information tracked or inferred about them as a result of past searches, online connections, and online activities. The result is that two individuals searching for exactly the same topic using exactly the same search terms in Google may find that they receive very different results.

A similar approach is used to determine what news items a Facebook user sees in their newsfeed. Of course, once information is filtered through users' social networks on Facebook, Twitter and other similar services, it flows automatically to them - which partly eliminates the need for searching, because relevant information is already immediately available.

Indeed, the ultimate aim of social search is to obviate the need for searching at all, with search engines becoming more like prediction engines which anticipate users' needs, as seen in Google Now (see video below).

It is also possible to set up personalised search services or portals, which search only defined areas of the web, notably with Google Custom Search.

- ► going mobile - The major web search engines are available in mobile app versions; these include Google (incorporating Google Now), Yahoo! and Bing. As of mid-2013, Google is absolutely dominant in this market, being used for around 95% of mobile searches. However, given that smart device users have gravitated towards single-purpose apps and away from the mobile web, search is generally of lesser importance on mobile devices than on laptop and desktop devices.

It is possible to find mobile apps by:

  • searching within app stores such as iTunes (for Apple iOS apps) or Google Play (for Android apps)
  • searching with general-purpose search engines like Google, Yahoo!, or Bing
  • using specialised search services like Quixey, which searches for mobile, desktop, browser and web apps

- ► variations - Google Zeitgeist offers an overview of common searches while Google Trends allows comparisons between search terms.

- ► more - For academic and journalistic references about search, see the E-learning references page. You'll also find current information in the E-learning tag cloud.

Credits: The image above left shows the results of a Tag Galaxy search of Flickr images. Thanks are due to Tracy Dexter-Ingram for the research search links, Niamh Fitzpatrick for the flickrCC link, and Belinda Shilkin for the Tag Galaxy link.

Contact: There's no such thing as a finished wiki. Like all wikis, this one is a work in progress and there will be changes from time to time in organisation, content and links. However, don't let that stop you from contacting me at any time with comments, suggestions or questions.